Fall & Winter Growing Guides

Cole Crops

Over 3000 years ago wild cabbages growing on the cold, windswept cliffs of Dover, England, were gathered and used as food by nomadic tribes. Cole is derived from caulis, the Latin word for stem or stalk. All cole crops are the same species, Brassica oleracea. This large group includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, and kohlrabi. When exposed to cooler weather, cole crops gather sugars in their tissues. These sugars act as an anti-freeze to protect leaves from freezing and give us the very sweet flavor that only cool season growing can.

Many areas of the eastern seaboard as far north as Maine, and all along the southern tier of states to as far north as southern Nebraska and Iowa can enjoy winter gardening by using minimal protection. Inexpensive cloches and row covers can move your garden climate a full zone warmer.

CULTURE: All cole crops for winter and fall production are sown in mid summer to allow for adequate growth prior to the onset of fall. Varieties that form a head or an edible flower, like broccoli or cauliflower should be sown just after the 4th of July so the seedlings are 3-4 weeks old at transplanting in mid August. Leaf types like kale can be sown through September. If direct sown, great care must be taken to see that the seedbed is kept uniformly moist to ensure quick and even germination. Some gardeners find that starting the seed indoors allows them to closely monitor the developing seedlings. If starting indoors, use a sterilized seed starting mix and peat pots to minimize chances of damping off and to reduce root disturbance at transplanting. An important lesson to remember is that if cole crops are stressed by the lack of moisture or low fertility anytime during their growth they are likely to bolt (flower) and will not produce a crop. Whether transplanting or direct sowing, the seed should be planted at a depth of 1/2 inch in groups or clumps of 2-3 seeds. Brassica seed is normally quite vigorous and high germinating. About a week after the seedlings have emerged, thin each clump down to one seedling. Fall maturing crops should be spaced 18-24 inches apart in the garden. Because of their larger size, winter-maturing crops should be spaced 20-30 inches apart in rows 3-4 feet apart. To increase their stability, hill soil up around the roots of winter crops as they grow, keep the garden weed free, and provide adequate water, about 2 inches each week, during dry weather.

WINTER SOIL AMENDMENTS: To ensure vigorous growth, cole crops should be sown into well-dug, humus-rich ground with the pH between 6-7. Because soil biological activity is lower during the late fall and winter months, fall applications of organic fertilizers will have little chance to be broken down into forms that the plant will be able to use, so year round fertility management in the garden and applications of organic fertilizers and a source of calcium at planting are important. Two heaping tablespoons of our complete fertilizer (ZFE250) for each plant at transplant time along with 7-10 ounces of lime or bone meal per 100 square feet will help provide those nutrients. Two additional tablespoons of blood meal applied around each plant in the early spring will help in bringing the plant to maturity. Remember to have a soil test done at least once every couple of years. Poor soil fertility will cause the plants to be weak and stunted.

DISEASE: Diseases are seldom a problem for the home gardener. The best prevention is to use sterile starting mixes, clean outdoor beds after harvest including removing plant roots, and rotate your crops, leaving at least 2 years between plantings of cole crops. Contact your local county extension agent for specific problems.

INSECTS: Most insects can be screened out by using a floating row cover such as Reemay (ZRC811), Grow Guard 20 (ZRC823), or Summer Insect Barrier (ZRC818). Cover your plants as soon as you set them out. Flea beetles are generally the most troubling, chewing tiny pinholes in the leaves. Spray with Pyrethrin (ZIN482) to help keep the beetle population knocked down and allow plants to outgrow any damage. We have also found that a sacrifice trap crop of Tyfon (WW4409), radish, or mustards planted in late June will keep the flea beetles away from the young cole crop seedlings.

Cabbage loopers (Trichoplusia ni) and imported cabbage worms (Pieris rapae) can be very damaging to cole crops. The first sign of these pests will be white moths fluttering just above the plant tops. The females land and deposit their eggs at the base of the plant, where the eggs hatch and the larva feed on the roots and leaves. At the first sign of moths, simply spray plants with bacteria Bacillus thuringienses (BT) sold as Thuricide (ZIN483). For heavy infestations, bait cabbage worms by mixing wheat bran into the above BT water solution until all water is absorbed by the bran. Add 1 tablespoon molasses. Hand sprinkle or broadcast the bran mixture in and around the base of the plants and reapply as necessary. Cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, and cabbage root maggots all respond to this method.

Symphylans are active in soil temperatures down to 45°F, so they can be a problem in the fall garden. Another food source for symphylans is soil fungal strands. In a healthy garden soil, placing higher carbon food sources like straw or leaves between the rows can encourage sufficient fungal food sources. Recent research suggests that frequent soil disturbances like repeated tilling and deep digging disturb the soil structure and break up fungal strands, which might actually encourage root foraging by symphylans.

Aphids can sometimes be a problem on maturing crops in the fall and winter. Control them with a hard spray of water as well as applications of Insecticidal Soap (ZIN502) or Pyrethrin (ZIN482). For best results always start control measures prior to heavy population of insects. The aphid population usually drops radically after the first frosts.

Broccoli

Seed DepthSeed SpacingSoil Temp for Germ.Days to Germ.Thin Plants To Approximately 125-175 seeds per 1/2 gram.
1/4″4-6″55-75°F5-1712-24″

Brassica oleracea, Botrytis Group
The fresh, rich taste of broccoli is a natural for the winter garden. The cool weather of fall and winter makes for large, smooth heads of unequaled quality. By planting several varieties you can have a sequence of maturity dates that will give you a continual harvest from late summer through to the new year!

CULTURE: Refer to the Cole Crop culture box for helpful growing tips. HARVEST: Before flower buds open, cut the central head at a 45° angle. Side shoots will form from the axillary buds. Store at 40°F and 95% relative humidity.

Brussels Sprouts

Seed DepthSeed SpacingSoil Temp for Germ.Days to Germ.Thin Plants To Approximately 60-85 seeds per 1/4 gram.
1/4″4-6″55-75°F5-1724″

Brassica oleracea, Gemmifera Group
One of the most cold-hardy of the cabbage family, Brussels Sprouts will survive freezes that ruin most other winter vegetables. The varieties that we have included have been consistent winter producers for us, with great leaf cover and abundant sprout production down to 10°F.

CULTURE: Refer to the Cole Crops culture box for helpful growing tips.

HARVEST: Begin picking at the bottom. The upper sprouts will continue to mature as the lower ones are harvested. Unlike earlier varieties, don't remove the leaves as they protect the plant from foul winter weather.

Cabbage

Seed DepthSeed SpacingSoil Temp for Germ.Days to Germ.Thin Plants To Approximately 55-115 seeds per 1/2 gram.
1/4″4-6″55-75°F5-1718-24″

Brassica oleracea, Capitata Group
Cabbage is one of the mainstays of the winter garden. Modern cabbages are thought to have originated in Germany, where both red and white cabbages were grown as early as 1150. They are easy to grow and many times sweeter than those bought in the store.

CULTURE: There are three distinct groups of cabbages for the fall and winter garden. Autumn varieties are planted in June/July and mature in September/October. Winter varieties are also planted June/July and mature in December. Wrapping up the year, spring varieties are planted in August and are table ready in March/April. Refer to the Cole Crop culture box for helpful growing tips.

HARVEST: When cutting heads from the stems, include two or three of the wrapper leaves to protect against bruising. Late storage types will keep up to 6 months if kept at 32°F and 98–100% relative humidity.

Cauliflower

Seed DepthSeed SpacingSoil Temp for Germ.Days to Germ.Thin Plants To Approximately 60-85 seeds per 1/4 gram.
1/4″See Below55-75°F5-1712-24″

Brassica oleracea, Botrytis Group
Autumn and winter cauliflower can be abundantly produced from October through May of the following spring. The breeding accomplishments of our European friends have provided us with a depth of variety seldom seen in a class of vegetables.

CULTURE: Because cauliflower root systems tend to be less aggressive than other cole crops, rich, humusy, well–drained soil is essential for good production. A good source of nitrogen such as blood meal is also important. One to two tablespoons around each plant in the spring provides that extra boost needed for vigorous spring growth. Refer to the Cole Crop culture box for planting instructions and growing tips.

HARVEST: When mature, the flowerets just begin to separate and appear slightly ricey. At this point the flavor is still at peak quality and the size is maximum. Store at 34°F and 95% relative humidity.

Collards

Seed DepthSeed SpacingSoil Temp for Germ.Days to Germ.Thin Plants To Approximately 250 seeds per gram.
1/4-1/2″1-3″55-75°F5-1712-18″

Brassica oleracea, Acephala Group
A cold-weather hardy member of the cabbage family, grown for pot greens. Well known in the South, it also thrives in the cool maritime Northwest. Sweeter when kissed by frost.

CULTURE: Refer to the Cole Crops culture box for helpful growing tips.

HARVEST: Pick leaves as you want them. They will not store more than a few days in the refrigerator.

Kale

Seed DepthSeed SpacingSoil Temp for Germ.Days to Germ.Thin Plants To Approximately 300 seeds per gram.
1/4″4-6″55-75°F5-1712-24″

Brassica oleracea, Acephala Group
Most people don't know that kale is one of the finest of stir-fry greens which can be grown nearly all year-round. Our Siberian is sweet and tender enough to chop finely and use in winter salads. Kale is a very cold–hardy Brassica, always reliable and always tasty.

CULTURE: Refer to the Cole Crop culture box for planting instructions and growing tips.

HARVEST: A light frost brings out the sweetness. Pick outer leaves when they are about 8–10 inches long. Avoid picking the inner leaves to prevent damaging the growing point. Store at 33°F and 100% humidity.

Kohlrabi

Seed DepthSeed SpacingSoil Temp for Germ.Days to Germ.Thin Plants To Approximately 150 seeds per 1/2 gram.
1/4″1″55-75°F5-173-8″

Brassica oleracea, Gongylodes Group
This odd member of the cabbage family was cultivated by the Romans and later became a favorite of the Germans, where it acquired its familiar name, Kohlrabi, which means cabbage turnip.

CULTURE: An excellent substitute for turnips because its above-ground location makes it virtually immune to root maggots. Fall production of Kohlrabi in fertile well-drained soil will help avoid the woody, hot taste that sometimes occurs with summer harvests. Frost hardy down to 10°F. Refer to the Cole Crop culture box for planting instructions and growing tips.

HARVEST: Sweet when very young (under 2 inches across) or kissed by frost. Some of ours have remained good until Christmas by which time they're 4–5 inches in diameter. Store at 34°F and 95% relative humidity.